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am 28. April 2000
Book review in Jerusalem Post
"Lia's book provides a fresh reassessment of the growth of the Muslim Brothers. He does so by drawing on a wealth of recently discovered documents, including the Society's own internal publications from the 1930s and '40s, British intelligence reports and al-Banna's personal letters.
While touching on issues of ideology and anti imperialism, Lia places great emphasis on the Society's structure and its activities within Egypt to explain its early phenomenal growth. Rather than a reaction to modernity, he argues that the Society itself was a modern organization, open to new technologies and ideas. (..)
The violence and radicalism within the organization prove to be among the thorniest issues in the book. While the Muslim Brothers provided the organizational model for today's radical Islamic groups, to some extent they also provided the template of violence. Lia argues that the Society, while calling for an all-Islamic "struggle" on various occasions, was not inherently violent. The Muslim Brothers did have a military wing, the so-called Special Section, but this, he says, was a way to channel the radical energies of the more energetic younger members. This element of violence can be traced back to a split within the Muslim Brothers in 1939. As a reaction to al-Banna's accommodationist political activity, a group calling itself the Society of Our Master Muhammad's Youth split off from the main organization. Throughout the next decades, this group would continue to splinter, creating the network of violent Islamic groups which plagued Egypt today (..) Lia argues that the growing radicalism resulted from government efforts to shut these Islamic groups out of the Egyptian political system. Lacking a legitimate outlet for their energies, he argues, these groups can easily turn to the option of terrorism.
"The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt 1928-1942" is an important contribution to our understanding. If any complaint can be leveled it is at the circumscription of the book's time frame. Lia limits his study from the beginning of the Society until 1942 (..)Numerous issues of interst arose in the Society's history after this period from the involvement of the Muslim Brothers in the 1948 war against Israel to the 1949 assassination of al-Banna and Nasser's eventual outlawing of the Society. A wider study would further consider the development of violence within the Muslim Brothers and its splinter groups and offshots. One can only hope that Lia has plans for a companion volume"
Book review by Shai Tsur in Jerusalem Post December 1998
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am 28. April 2000
"This book purports to supersede Mitchell's rather brief coverage of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood (hereafter MB) in the 1930s. There are three reasons why it succeeds in doing this: firstly, it draws on a host of sources not available to Mitchell, namely the memoirs and documents that have flooded the Egyptian bookmarket since the release of the Brothers in the 1970s. Secondly, it distances itself from earlier treatments of the MB - including Mitchell's - which saw the MB as traditionalist, reactionary and exclusivist. Thirdly, it asks the right question and pursues it clearly and thoughtfully.
The right question is the question of growth. Of all the various Islamic societies flourishing in the 1930s, why was it precisely the MB which grew so dramatically that, by 1941, it had more than 500 branches in Egypt alone and several hundred thousand supporters? How did a small provincial charity become a force to be reckoned with on a national political level? Lia answers this question by pointing to the MB's organizational skills, its daring campaigns on popular issues such as Christian missionary activity, and its conscious drive to represent an important but neglected constituency, namely the urban middle class. In presenting this explanation, he argues against a number of earlier answers which he finds one-dimensional and in need of qualifications. These include political patronage, the MB's adroit exploitation of Egyptian sympathy for the Palestinian uprising, Hasan al-Banna's charisma and the MB's anti-Western ideology. (..)
Lia makes the case for explaining the growth of the MB in the 1930s in terms of its own internal organizational history. Much of this is convincingly argued and well documented. Old themes in the literature on the MB are addressed and deepened. Thus, Hasan al-Banna's attitude to Sufism and use of it in his early work is very well presented, in addition to new information about his access to Salafi patronage through his father and his politics towards dissenting voices in the organization from the early crisis over the mosque in Ismailiya and up to the defection of Muhammad's Youth in 1940. Another very good chapter is on the various classes of cadres: why they were set up, how they were trained and controlled and what they were used for. (..)
Lia has answered the question of how the MB was able to attract and absorb so many newcomers and hold on to them, but maybe not why it was attractive to them in the first place. This may have more to do with the prevailing attitudes and perceptions of the 1930s. (..) What may be relevant is attention to how the MB could tap into what may be called the semi-ideoloigical notions of Islam, nation and justice that were taking shape at the time, and how these notions could emerge (..) [A]lthough Lia is right in looking for internal factors explaining why it was precisely the MB which grew so fast, external factors at the level of mass culture were also at work to make Islam the solution."
Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations Vol.9 No.3 (1998)
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am 28. April 2000
"The best known study of Egypt's foremost fundamentalist Islamic movement, Richard Mitchell's Society of the Muslim Brothers (1969) portrayed the organisation as a reactionary response to Westernization mounted by those left in its wake ... Now, however, a thoroughly different (and much improved) interpretation rules, one that sees the Muslim Brothers and like movements as a facet of modernization. Their personell are urbanites dealing with the cutting edge of modern problems; their ideas, methods, and goals all incorporate modern ways; and they show far more willingness to learn from the West than was hitherto realized.
In a very impressive research effort into the early years of the Muslim Brothers, Lia (a Norwegian scholar) relies on new sources and deep knowledge of his subject to show convincingly just how well that movement does fit the new interpretation. He establishes that it organized in ways novel for Egypt and mobilized elements of the population hitherto neglected. But its greatest importance lay in developing an answer to the rampant European ideologies of the 1930s: in this, the Muslim Brothers began "a lasting process of renewal .. in which religion was related to the modern age and all aspects of modern life." With justification, Lia concludes that the Muslim Brothers' reinterpretation of Islam will remain 'the most far-reaching Islamic renewal this century' ".
Middle East Quarterly June 1998, p.88
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am 28. April 2000
"The best known study of Egypt's foremost fundamentalist Islamic movement, Richard Mitchell's Society of the Muslim Brothers (1969) portrayed the organisation as a reactionary response to Westernization mounted by those left in its wake ... Now, however, a thoroughly different (and much improved) interpretation rules, one that sees the Muslim Brothers and like movements as a facet of modernization. Their personell are urbanites dealing with the cutting edge of modern problems; their ideas, methods, and goals all incorporate modern ways; and they show far more willingness to learn from the West than was hitherto realized.
In a very impressive research effort into the early years of the Muslim Brothers, Lia (a Norwegian scholar) relies on new sources and deep knowledge of his subject to show convincingly just how well that movement does fit the new interpretation. He establishes that it organized in ways novel for Egypt and mobilized elements of the population hitherto neglected. But its greatest importance lay in developing an answer to the rampant European ideologies of the 1930s: in this, the Muslim Brothers began "a lasting process of renewal .. in which religion was related to the modern age and all aspects of modern life." With justification, Lia concludes that the Muslim Brothers' reinterpretation of Islam will remain 'the most far-reaching Islamic renewal this century' ".
Middle East Quarterly June 1998, p.88
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